Saturday, June 22, 2013

Big Brother (Uncle Sam) Is Trying to Rewrite Our History -- Again

By Diana West
June 21, 2013

Former Florida Governor and Senator Bob Graham before speaking on national security at a presentation at the Hyatt Regency in Sarasota. (TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE)

Read more here:

The narrow boxes through which we find ourselves entering public debate over the rise of a totalitarian government surveillance infrastructure are driving me a little crazy.

“Edward Snowden: Hero or traitor?”

Pick one, now, the question demands, before we learn anything else, think anything more. In this way, our attention is focused onto Snowden, the man, not Uncle Sam, the secret megastate. We wade into a vortex of emotions whirling around loyalty to the republic: a republic with sovereign borders, or so we hope; that runs by rule of law, or so we think; where citizenship is precious, or so we imagine.

What Snowden’s revelations confirm, however, is that such a republic no longer exists – except as a mirage that powerful Surveillance State officials spin as reality.
Tap, tap – answer the question! “Hero or traitor?”

“Traitor!” some cry, never noticing that Snowden’s leak makes him a “traitor” to the Surveillance State, not the republic of memory. But such a gaffe is fine with our Big Brothers, from President Obama and FBI Director Robert Mueller to former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Listen the next time they insist that it is only the current state of mass surveillance that can preserve our folkloric republic, its residual form currently being liquidated by “immigration-reforming” U.S. senators, whose “hero” or “traitor” status we might also weigh. Listen the next time they argue that only PRISM, only stockpiling hundreds of millions of cellphone conversations, emails, texts and other personal records, can prevent a fiery cloud of new 9/11s.

Now they are even telling us that the first 9/11 could have been prevented altogether had the mass surveillance infrastructure been in place at the time.

This is a whopper too far, and with the gravest implications. Big Brother is rewriting our history again, after having withheld too many facts from We, the People, about 9/11 all along.

This new Big Lie about 9/11 is that the Snowden-leaked programs of data mining and cellphone collection might well have led authorities to identify two key Saudi hijackers in San Diego and roll up the whole al-Qaida plot. As former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who served as co-chairman of the Congressional Joint 9/11 Inquiry, has made abundantly clear, this particular pair, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, was already well-known to U.S. intelligence authorities for ties to the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and other hostile activities. Indeed, the CIA had even listened in on conversations at an al-Qaida safe house in Yemen that referenced the pair as far back as December 1999 – no PRISM necessary.

For reasons unknown, the CIA did not nominate them to any U.S. terror watch lists, and they were able to live and take flying lessons and consort with other Saudi nationals in the U.S. in plain sight up until the 9/11 attacks.

Why? Are we looking at government incompetence as usual? Or how about more special U.S. treatment for Saudis? In Graham’s excellent book Intelligence Matters, he recounts the instructive experience of U.S. immigration official Jose Melendez-Perez, who, following an alarming entry interview at Orlando airport with a Saudi man named Mohammed al-Qahtani, barred al-Qahtani’s entry into the country.

“Many of the other agents thought Melendez-Perez was risking his career because … it is made clear to customs officials in their training that Saudis are different,” Graham writes. “He told me he was taught that a Saudi … is to be treated with deference and special respect.” Graham continues: “Melendez-Perez’s instincts proved correct. Waiting outside the airport for al-Qahtani’s arrival was Mohamed Atta.”

Not a byte of data mining necessary.

Meanwhile, the information linking 9/11 hijackers to other Saudis in California is information congressional investigators developed themselves. The FBI, as Graham has long attested, withheld evidence from Congress’ Joint Inquiry – and, later, the 9/11 Commission. Why? More Saudi cover-up, it seems. It doesn’t stop. For example, the 28-page section of the inquiry's final report on “sources of foreign support for some of the Sept. 11 hijackers,” remains classified, another bone of Graham’s contention.

In 2011, reporters Anthony Summers and Dan Christiansen broke the news in that the FBI withheld more information from the Congress’ inquiry: its investigation into another Saudi 9/11 support network, this one in Sarasota, Fla. The FBI rejected the claim, insisting the agency had informed both the 9/11 Commission and Congress's inquiry about its investigation, which it also claimed had gone nowhere.

“This assertion by the FBI was not credible,” Graham writes in a sworn declaration dated May 31, 2013, attached to a Freedom of Information lawsuit brought by in federal court in Fort Lauderdale. Graham also writes that he contacted 9/11 Commission co-chairmen Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton and reports that neither of them had ever heard of an FBI investigation in Sarasota, either.

More important, as Graham states, the FBI’s failure to call attention to “documents finding ‘many connections’ between Saudis living in the United States and individuals associated with the terrorist (attacks) … interfered with the Inquiry’s ability to complete its mission.”

This stonewalling continues under the Obama administration. In his sworn declaration, Graham names names. These include presidential-adviser-turned-CIA Director John Brennan, who fobbed him off, and deputy FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce, who has blocked Graham’s efforts to pursue the Sarasota story at every turn. Graham states that Joyce advised him that he, Joyce, had instructed the FBI agent in charge of the Sarasota investigation (since transferred to Honolulu!) not to speak to Graham.

“I am troubled by what appears to me to be a persistent effort by the FBI to conceal from the American people information concerning possible Saudi support of the Sept. 11 attacks,” Graham writes.

Also troubling is watching the U.S. government hide and twist history – the shocking subject of my new book, American Betrayal – in real time. We can’t let them do this to us again.

Follow me @diana_west_

Uncovering the Camp Bastion cover-up

by Michelle Malkin
Sgt. Bradley Atwell, left, and Lt. Col. Christopher Raible were killed when insurgents attacked Camp Bastion in Afghanistan on Sept. 14.
All it takes is one crack for a stone wall to start crumbling. Nine months after the deadly 9/14 raid on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, the families of two fallen Marines may finally get some answers. Real accountability, of course, is another story.
A formal internal investigation into lax security at the base — a British-run NATO compound that adjoins our Marines’ Camp Leatherneck — is now under way. A few members of Congress are putting pressure on the administration for the truth. And a couple of mainstream reporters are digging deeper.
More, please. And faster. Camp Bastion belongs in the bloody scandal lexicon with Benghazi and Fast and Furious. This trio of national security disasters under the Obama administration didn’t just involve run-of-the-mill corruption and cover-ups. It cost American lives.
As I’ve been reporting in a series of columns and blog posts over the past year, the Taliban waged an intricately coordinated, brutal attack on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan last fall — three days after the deadly siege on our consulate in Libya and after months of prior security incidents and warnings. Fifteen jihadists disguised in stolen American combat fatigues penetrated the complex. They used rocket-propelled grenades, assault rifles and other weapons to wipe out nearly an entire squadron of Marine Harrier jets worth an estimated $200 million.
Along with the most devastating loss of U.S. airpower since Vietnam, two heroic U.S. Marines — Lt. Col. Christopher Raible and Sgt. Bradley Atwell — were killed in the battle, and nearly a dozen others were injured. Military officials refused to release details of the fateful budget and strategy decisions that led to the attack. But Deborah Hatheway, aunt of Sgt. Atwell and the family’s spokesperson, and other Camp Bastion families learned on their own that their loved ones were left vulnerable to attack by military leaders who outsourced watchtower security on the base to soldiers from Tonga.
The neglect of security at Bastion was widely known. Nick Francona, a former Marine Corps Ground Intelligence Officer with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, who served as a Scout Sniper Platoon Commander in Helmand Province in 2011, recounted on Foreign Policy magazine’s The Best Defense blog in April: “It was obvious to even a casual observer that many of the posts were unmanned and were comically left with a ‘green Ivan’ silhouette target as a halfhearted attempt at deterrence.”
Francona added: “The attack only occurred because of an egregious failure in basic infantry practices. … It is painfully obvious that this attack would not have been successful, or likely even attempted, if not for multiple security failures at Leatherneck/Bastion.”
The families zeroed in on Maj. Gen. Charles “Mark” Gurganus, who recently returned to the U.S. after commanding coalition forces in Afghanistan, as the man responsible for shortchanging security at Bastion. Gurganus was the same one who ordered Marines to disarm — immediately after a failed jihadi attack on then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last year — because he wanted them “to look just like our (unarmed) Afghan partners.”
The Camp Bastion families are not the only ones scrutinizing Gurganus’ decisions. A few weeks ago, Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran reported that the U.S. military has finally launched a formal probe into whether Gurganus and his subordinates bear responsibility for lax security at Bastion. A planned promotion for Gurganus has been put on hold.
Chandrasekaran confirmed that watchtowers were indeed left to Tongans (notorious at the base for sleeping on the job). In addition, reports Chandrasekaran, “Security patrols of the perimeter, which were conducted by the Marines … had been scaled back substantially in the months leading up to the attack.” Simply blaming the Tongans, however, is not accountability. U.S. staff decisions “made it easier for the Taliban to reconnoiter the compound and then enter without resistance,” according to Chadrasekaran’s sources with direct knowledge of the incident.
While U.S. Central Command investigates, there is now movement on Capitol Hill to help Camp Bastion families whose information requests have been stymied. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., has written Marine/CENTCOM leadership on behalf of the victims’ families. (Sgt. Atwell and his family are from Indiana.) Rokita told me in a statement this week: “This is about transparency and accountability. I want to make sure that Sgt. Atwell’s family, Lt. Col. Raible’s family and the American people get the full truth about the Camp Bastion attack.”
It’s a start. But as with Benghazi and Fast and Furious, getting the truth about Camp Bastion is only half the battle. Truth without consequences is a recipe for more dead Americans.

Friday, June 21, 2013

'Longmire' author Craig Johnson on polygamy, TV, 'Serpent's Tooth'

The cover of "A Serpent's Tooth" and author Craig Johnson

Just about a year ago, author Craig Johnson was riding high. The premiere of "Longmire," the A&E TV series based on his Walt Longmire mystery novels, was the highest rated scripted drama in the network's history and he had just started his book tour for "As the Crow Flies," the eighth book in the series.
He had stopped at a diner in Red Lodge, Mont., and as he was paying the cashier for his meal, he noticed an older woman staring at his hat -- a cap bearing the logo of his fictional Absaroka County Sheriff's Department. In a rather aggressive tone, the woman asked Johnson where he got the hat. Thinking she must've thought he was a real sheriff's deputy, Johnson said, "Its not a real county." She gave him a stern look and said, "The hell its not! It's Walt Longmire's county."
Taken aback, Johnson explained that he wrote the books on which the TV show are based.  Her reply: "There are books?"
Johnson doesn’t mind a bit. His newest novel in the series, “A Serpents Tooth,” has Sheriff Longmire and his crew on a scavenger hunt across Absaroka County searching for the missing mother of a Mormon “Lost Boy” who escaped from a heavily guarded polygamist compound.

Jacket Copy caught up with the author by phone twice to discuss "A Serpent's Tooth" and his experience with TV.  Johnson will be appearing in Los Angeles this weekend to promote "A Serpent's Tooth" at the Autry National Center (5 p.m. June 8) and at Book Soup (4 p.m. June 9).
In your last book, "As the Crow Flies," you left off with Walt’s daughter’s getting hitched. Why continue the marriage theme with polygamy in "A Serpent’s Tooth"?
I read that there had been a Warren Jeffs compound over in Custer County just across the border in South Dakota. I found it kind of appalling that these splinter polygamy fundamentalist groups had armed compounds and it weirded me out a little bit. I thought, "What would Walt do in this situation? How would he deal with it?" It seemed like the way to introduce that into his world was to have one of those Mormon “Lost Boys” suddenly appear in his county. Here you have this young teenage boy that has no resources, no knowledge of the outside world. Then to find out his mother is missing, that makes it Walt’s business at that point.

Your titles are all very colorful. What’s the meaning behind “A Serpents Tooth?”
It’s a quote from King Lear. It’s King Lear’s line to Cordelia: "How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!" The subtext of the book is this relationship between parents and children and what is perceived as ungrateful children throughout the book.

How does humor fit it with a topic as serious as a polygamist compound full of guns?
Anyone that’s ever had a tough job knows the way you make it through the day is you either laugh or cry. I can always tell when somebody is writing crime fiction that’s never been around cops before. Everyone is so earnest about breaking the case. They don’t take the time to let the characters breathe and let them be alive. For me, it’s essential to the story and books. The humor, it’s always going to be there. It a defense mechanism for the characters.
How many more Walt Longmire books do you have in you?
I've got more than I’ll ever be able to do. I don’t ever worry about running out of ideas. I’ll die before I ever get all the ideas written down. Most topics come from social problems and things I see in the newspapers. And my gosh, there’s enough social problems out there I’ll be writing until I’m 120 and fall over my computer.
How has your life changed since the TV show?
It's a whole brave new world for me. It's exponentially evolving as the year has gone on. Here I am, a cowboy author in a town of 25 [Ucross] in northern Wyoming. And all of sudden, my character is on Sunset Boulevard 20 stories high. It's a little odd.
It has had a large-scale effect as far the as the sale of books, especially the backlist of books. Its been kind of amazing to see how many people have gone back to the beginning and binge-read all the books and write me angry e-mails as to why I only write one book a year.
Which book has been selling the best?
"The Cold Dish" is chugging right along. I don't think it hurts that it has actor Robert Taylor's pretty face on the cover.... It's kinda nice to see it eight years later seeing a little bit of a rebirth. That's the seminal novel where we find out about Walt, Vick, Henry and everybody. As a writer, you can take a little more time with development of the place and characters with a first novel.
To be honest with you, that was all it was supposed to be -- a stand-alone novel.  Then Kathryn Court  of Penguin sat me down at lunch with the advance copy of "The Cold Dish" and said, "We'd like some more of these." My statement back to her was, "I'd be happy to write you some more books."  She said,  "I don't think you understand. We would love some more of these. We think these characters and this place, the relationships and everything, people are going to want more of this and we think you got a series on your hands."
What exactly is your role on the show?
You are speaking to an executive creative consultant! That means I know where the port-o-potties are on the set.
I'm not John Grisham or Stephen King. I can't dictate to Hollywood what they should do and how they should do it, but I do get to review the scripts. The writers put together synopses of all the episodes for me and touch base about the plot -- stuff like,  "Could this happen in Wyoming? Is this the jurisdiction of a sheriff?" I go down to the set at the beginning of the season to absorb what's going on, and nine  out of 10 times I get asked about details aren't that strong in books, like what color are sheriff's department shirts? Or what kind of truck should Walt drive? I remember being in a quandary over that because I had no idea. I rely so much on readers' imagination to do so much of my work for me. 
Why do you think people have embraced Walt & Co.?
This guy [Walt] lives by the cowboy code. He's a bit derivative of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, those stand-up types of guys. They do the right thing. I think society is growing tired of gray area characters --  the antihero.  You can't tell the good guy from the bad guy. It was executive producer Greer Shephard that knew. One of first meetings I had with her, she looked at "The Cold Dish" and Walt Longmire and said, "America is ready for this guy."
One of the first things my mother asked me when I finished the first draft was, "Is he a good man?" He is a good man. He's decent, has a good heart. He cares for people, and he does the right thing and that's something that needs to be heralded in modern day.
Tell us a little about your involvement with the Poo-Poo project. 
The Poo-Poo project is in conjunction with the Teton Raptor Center in Jackson Hole. Thousands of owls are constantly looking for dark, confined spaces to hide and nest. The center discovered that one of those places happens to be the vent cap in public restrooms. Owls get trapped in the ventilation pipes of vault toilets. I can't think of a more ignominious ending for anything, especially for something as beautiful as an owl. The project raises money to fabricate screens and bolt them to the vent stacks of the restrooms....
I heard about it when I was writing the short story e-book "Messenger," so a portion of the proceeds from the book are going to them. It's been one of the bestselling e-books that we've had so far.
Is it true you respond to all the emails from your fans personally?
I do. On my website, I've got a contact button and it's my email here at the ranch. Generally, the emails I get start off with, "Whoever it is that's responsible for answering Mr. Johnson's emails..." I'm always sitting here at the ranch thinking I need to make up a character that answers my emails: Buck, the broken-down cowboy from out on the Powder River: "We done answered 17 emails today and we ain't answerin' another one. Better luck tomorrow." 

The ride is just beginning for LeBron James, Miami Heat

By Dan Le Batard
June 21, 2013

LeBron James, holding the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy, is given the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award by Bill Russell after Game 7 of the NBA basketball championship against the San Antonio Spurs. The Miami Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 to win their second straight NBA championship. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

“Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six …”

This was a big joke, remember? And America laughed at it for more than a year. Laughed at him. Oh, the ego and hubris and presumption of LeBron James, in a moment of rock-concert celebration, getting carried away with future possibilities, as young people are wont to do and old people are left to wish they still could.

But now? Well, now that laughter has died, man. James killed it again Thursday night, just as it was hoping to be resurrected, on as magical a sports night as South Florida has ever seen. James wasn’t merely given America’s respect; he took it again, and against America’s rather substantive will. And now “not two, not three …” championships is no longer sounding like a punchline. No, today it sounds like something between a threat and promise.

“Just getting started,” Pat Riley said with hair and shirt stinking of champagne as Thursday turned into Friday, and one Miami Heat championship turned into two.
Last year, James finished those young fellas from Oklahoma City, just as they were uprising. This year, he closed the window on those old champions from San Antonio putting up one last valiant fight. Keep your armies coming in waves from all parts of the country and kneel before this King, who is just now getting the taste for the conquer and now begins looking to expand his empire. James scored 37 points as this season’s punctuation, more than he had scored in a playoff game this year, putting up the biggest number at the most important time.

Liberated and soaring, James gave great interviews after being crowned again, honest and humble, raw and real, and you could track on Twitter the waves this was creating, the villain turning to hero before our eyes on this climb because of how much we love to be near winners as they ascend. He’s so likeable! He hasn’t changed, mind you. Only the score has. But this is how you rewrite your story and your history in sports as you go, one scoreboard at a time. It is the cruel and cynical cycle of sports coverage these days: We’ll always doubt you … until we can’t. So now James coasts easily into the trail blazed by Michael Jordan, like drafting in racing, his flight from here to be buoyed by only worship and applause.

This being the social media age, the Heat are covered more loudly than any team ever has been, the perfect team for this time morphing into a team for all-time in real time. James came to Miami to be in this kind of game, and to have help, but only five Heat players would score Thursday night. Didn’t matter. It is probably better that the winning has been this hard, has pushed Miami to the brink and created so much doubt and stir and noise. If it had been easy, James would be getting accused of shortcutting his way to greatness. Because it was so hard, because it took the full seven games against both the Pacers and the Spurs, America kind of forgets that the Heat is a stacked team full of discounted ringers.

It gets quieter the higher you climb, away from the noise down there. James has climbed over Charles Barkley, who never won once. He has climbed over Dr. J and Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, who only won once. Now he joins Wilt Chamberlain and Willis Reed with two. He is in his prime, not yet 29, starting his winning at the same time Jordan did. He has made the leap from being compared to contemporaries to chasing the immortals. And maybe one day we’ll laugh at ourselves for laughing at him for “not two, not three…”

This is crazy, when you think about it. All of this was one Ray Allen shot in Game 6 from not happening. This season could have ended that night with an epic Miami collapse that included two awful James turnovers late — and would have restarted the laughter. But now he’s so likeable! Because Allen made a desperate shot with five second left. That helped produce this insane night, when all of South Florida felt like it was teetering on a tipping point, see-sawing between the best and worst sports feelings, three years condensed into a single fourth quarter.

Think about the best moments in South Florida history. Marlins win the World Series in extra innings of Game 7. Dolphins cap the only perfect season in team sports history with a Super Bowl triumph. Bernie Kosar leads a huge underdog University of Miami to a surprise championship over powerhouse Nebraska to begin UM’s dynastic run.

Now think of the worst moments. UM losing to Penn State and Ohio State for the championship in the Fiesta Bowl. Allan Houston’s bounce-bounce-bouncing shot on the rim. Or even LeBron losing in the first year here against Dallas. This night, this championship, careened between those extremes for the entirety of this evening and came down to a one point difference entering the fourth quarter — capable of producing maybe the best feeling South Florida sports has ever known, or the worst. No in between. No nuance or context or perspective. That scoreboard can be cold and cruel in the way it separates winners from losers, and forever.

But there was confetti all over the court, and car horns honking outside, as Riley made his way through the bowels of the arena, looking to congratulate the beaten Spurs on their fight. People kept slapping him on the back with “You are a genius!” or “You are a legend!”, but Riley, the champion architect, was lost in his own building at the moment, soaked in champagne and championship.

“Where is the visiting locker room?” he asked. “I’ve never been there.”

He pulled on one door and stuck his head inside. Nope. That wasn’t it. Another. Nope. He pulled on the right door this time. Locked. He was not let in. So he kept walking, right past all the losing, leaving it in his rear-view mirror, and found his way into the cigar smoke and champagne and music and noise where Heat players and their families were taking pictures with the golden trophy.

“I’ve never done it, but I’ve heard the stories of the best surfers,” Riley said. “The waves are giant. You stand up, and you get your footing, and you look down and see that the drop is a scary, scary one. Should I ride or should I bail? We rode. We didn’t bail. We rode that wave, and it was an amazing ride.”

It was.

But here’s the best part:

We’re in the middle of it.

It might be closer to the beginning of the amazing ride than to the end.

Read more here:

Obama’s Melting Wings

Way down below, America loses and loses. 

June 21, 2013

Political Cartoons by Jerry Holbert

Descending from the heavens for the G8 summit at beautiful Lough Erne this week, President Obama caused some amusement to his British hosts. The chancellor of the exchequer had been invited to give a presentation to the assembled heads of government on the matter of tax avoidance (one of the big items on the agenda, for those of you who think what the IRS could really use right now is even more enforcement powers). The president evidently enjoyed it. Thrice, he piped up to say how much he agreed with Jeffrey, eventually concluding the presentation with the words, “Thank you, Jeffrey.” Unfortunately, the chancellor of the exchequer is a bloke called George Osborne, not Jeffrey Osborne. President Obama subsequently apologized for confusing George with Jeffrey, who was a popular vocal artiste back in the Eighties when Obama was dating his composite girlfriend and making composite whoopee to the composite remix of Jeffrey Osborne’s 1982 smoocheroo, “On the Wings of Love.”

I suppose it might have been worse. When Angela Merkel proposed a toast to a strong West, he could have assumed that was the name of Kim and Kanye’s new baby. At any rate, President Obama’s mishap had faint echoes of a famous social faux pas during the Second World War. Irving Berlin, the celebrated composer of “White Christmas,” was invited to lunch at 10 Downing Street and was surprised to find that Churchill, instead of asking what’s that Bing Crosby really like, badgered him with complex moral and strategic questions and requests for estimates of U.S. war production. It turned out the prime minister had confused Irving Berlin with the philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin, then under secondment to the British embassy in Washington, and thought it was the latter he’d invited to Number Ten. In the Obama era, any confusion is the other way around. It would be a terrible thing for the president to invite the eminent rapper Jay-Z to lunch only to find himself stuck next to the turgid British philosopher Professor Sir Jay Zed. Although Obama’s confusion went largely unreported in America, the BBC’s enterprising Eddie Mair got Jeffrey Osborne on the line and inveigled him into singing George Osborne’s best-known words — “Tax cuts should be for life, not just Christmastime” — to Jeffrey’s best-known tune. 

The following day Mangue Obama — whoops, my mistake, Mangue Obama was the prime minister of Equatorial Guinea from 2006 to 2008, and has a way smaller and less incompetent entourage — Barack Obama departed for Berlin (the German city, not the American songwriter or British philosopher). Five years ago at the Brandenburg Gate, he thrilled a crowd of 200,000 with his stirring clarion call to himself, “Ich bin ein Baracker.” This time, he spoke to an audience barely a fiftieth of that size — 4,500, most of whom were bored out of their lederhosen. As I wrote of Obama’s Massachusetts yawnfest in 2010, he went to the trouble of flying in to phone it in. If the BBC’s mash-up of Jeffrey Osborne’s 1982 Billboard hit and Chancellor Osborne’s recent speech at the Mansion House in London was something of an awkward fit, you could slip large slabs of “On the Wings of Love” into Obama’s telepromptered pap and none of the 27 Germans still awake would have noticed the difference:
Peace with justice means extending a hand to those who reach for freedom, wherever they live. Come take my hand and together we will rise, on the wings of love, up and above the clouds, the only way to fly . . .

Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons — no matter how distant that dream may be, just smile for me and let the day begin. You are the sunshine that lights my heat within, and we can reject the nuclear weaponization that North Korea and Iran may be seeking, because we are angels in disguise, we live and breathe each other, inseparable . . .

The effort to slow climate change requires bold action. For the grim alternative affects all nations — more severe storms, more famine and floods . . . coastlines that vanish, oceans that rise, you look at me and I begin to melt, just like the snow when a ray of sun is felt. . . . This is the future we must avert. This is the global threat of our time. . . . That is our task. We have to get to work. We’re flowing like a stream, running free, flowing on the wings of love . . . 

 The wings of love don’t seem to carry Obama as far as they used to. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews blamed the lackluster performance on the sun’s glare affecting his ability to read the text. That’s how bad it is: Global warming melted his prompter. But the speech itself was barely distinguishable in its cobwebbed utopian pabulum from the video for a nuclear-free world just released by Michael Douglas and other celebrities. And Mr. Douglas, who recently gave a fascinating interview to the Guardian in which he blamed his cancerous walnut-sized tongue tumor upon his addiction to oral sex, at least has a better excuse as to why his silvery tongue doesn’t work its magic quite the way it used to. Der Spiegel, which is the very definition of mainstream media in Germany, described the president’s Berlin stop as a visit by “the head of the largest and most all-encompassing surveillance system ever invented” — and under the headline “Obama’s Soft Totalitarianism.”

Obama isn’t a “soft” totalitarian so much as a slapdash one. His apparatchiks monitor the e-mails of both Jeffrey and George Osborne, but he still can’t tell one from the other. Likewise, in Syria as in Libya, “the largest and most all-encompassing surveillance system ever invented” can’t tell a plucky freedom fighter itching to build Massachusetts in the sands of Araby from your neighborhood al-Qaeda subsidiary whose health-care plan only covers clitoridectomies.

His G8 colleagues have begun to figure out that America no longer matters. To be sure, the trappings of the presidency are a lagging indicator: He still flies in with more limos and Secret Service agents than everybody else, combined. Then again, the other American story to catch the fancy of the Fleet Street tabloids in recent days is that of the unfortunate Las Vegas man with the world’s biggest scrotum, weighing 140 pounds, yet unable to perform. Of his talks with Vladimir Putin, the president said, “With respect to Syria, we do have differing perspectives on the problem, but we share an interest in reducing the violence.” Putin aims to reduce the violence by getting his boy Assad to kill everyone he needs to. Obama aims to reduce the violence by giving a speech about the “intolerance that fuels extremism” — or is it the other way round? The world understands that Putin means it and Obama doesn’t — just as in Afghanistan everyone knows the Taliban means it and the fainthearted superpower doesn’t.

Thanks to the stork delivering his bundle to Miss Kardashian (see above), Americans seem not to have noticed that the U.S. has just lost yet another war. But in Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, they noticed, and they will act accordingly. On the wings of love, up and above the clouds, Obama wafts ever higher on his own gaseous uplift. Down on solid ground, the rest of the world must occasionally wonder if they haven’t confused the U.S. delegation with the world’s most empty-headed boy band.

— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2013 Mark Steyn

Obama hits a wall in Berlin


June 20, 2013
On Wednesday, the president gave his speech on the East side of the Brandenburg Gate, in the old East Berlin to a an audience of approximately 4,500 people.  As a candidate in 2008, then Senator Obama spoke to a crowd estimated at 200,000. 
The question of whether Barack Obama’s second term will be a failure was answered in the affirmative before his Berlin debacle, which has recast the question, which now is: Will this term be silly, even scary in its detachment from reality?
Before Berlin, Obama set his steep downward trajectory by squandering the most precious post-election months on gun-control futilities and by a subsequent storm of scandals that have made his unvarying project — ever bigger, more expansive, more intrusive and more coercive government — more repulsive. Then came Wednesday’s pratfall in Berlin.
There he vowed energetic measures against global warming (“the global threat of our time”). The 16-year pause of this warmingwas not predicted by, and is not explained by, the climate models for which, in his strange understanding of respect for science, he has forsworn skepticism.
Regarding another threat, he spoke an almost meaningless sentence that is an exquisite example of why his rhetoric cannot withstand close reading: “We may strike blows against terrorist networks, but if we ignore the instability and intolerance that fuels extremism, our own freedom will eventually be endangered.” So, “instability and intolerance” are to blame for terrorism? Instability where? Intolerance of what by whom “fuels” terrorists? Terrorism is a tactic of destabilization. Intolerance is, for terrorists, a virtue.
It is axiomatic: Arms control is impossible until it is unimportant. This is because arms control is an arena of competition in which nations negotiate only those limits that advance their interests. Nevertheless, Obama trotted out another golden oldie in Berlin when he vowed to resuscitate thecadaver of nuclear arms control with Russia. As though Russia’s arsenal is a pressing problem. And as though there is reason to think President Vladimir Putin, who calls the Soviet Union’s collapse “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” is interested in reducing the arsenal that is the basis of his otherwise Third World country’s claim to great-power status.
Shifting his strange focus from Russia’s nuclear weapons, Obama said “we can . . . reject the nuclear weaponization that North Korea and Iran may be seeking.” Were Obama given to saying such stuff off the cuff, this would be a good reason for handcuffing him to a teleprompter. But, amazingly, such stuff is put on his teleprompter and, even more amazing, he reads it aloud.
Neither the people who wrote those words nor he who spoke them can be taken seriously. North Korea and Iran may be seeking nuclear weapons? North Korea mayhave such weapons. Evidently Obama still entertains doubts that Iran is seeking them.
In Northern Ireland before going to Berlin, Obama sat next to Putin, whose demeanor and body language when he is in Obama’s presence radiate disdain. There Obama said: “With respect to Syria, we do have differing perspectives on the problem, but we share an interest in reducing the violence.” Differing perspectives?
Obama wants to reduce the violence by coaxing Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, who is winning the war, to attend a conference at which he negotiates the surrender of his power. Putin wants to reduce the violence by helping — with lavish materiel assistance and by preventing diplomacy that interferes — Assad complete the destruction of his enemies.
Napoleon said: “If you start to take Vienna — take Vienna.” Douglas MacArthur said that all military disasters can be explained by two words: “Too late.” Regarding Syria, Obama is tentative and, if he insists on the folly of intervening, tardy. He is giving Putin a golden opportunity to humiliate the nation responsible for the “catastrophe.” In a contest between a dilettante and a dictator, bet on the latter.
Obama’s vanity is a wonder of the world that never loses its power to astonish, but really: Iseveryone in his orbit too lost in raptures of admiration to warn him against delivering a speech soggy with banalities and bromides in a city that remembers John Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” and Ronald Reagan’s “Tear down this wall”? With German Chancellor Angela Merkel sitting nearby, Obama began his Berlin speech: “As I’ve said, Angela and I don’t exactly look like previous German and American leaders.” He has indeed said that, too, before, at least about himself. It was mildly amusing in Berlin in 2008, but hardly a Noel Coward-like witticism worth recycling.
His look is just not that interesting. And after being pointless in Berlin, neither is he, other than for the surrealism of his second term.
Read more from George F. Will’s archive or follow him on Facebook.

IRS Case Closed? Far From It.

The FBI seems blasé about the IRS investigation, so it's crucial Congress make it a priority.

 By Peggy Noonan
 June 20, 2013

Right now the IRS story looks stalled and confused. Congressional investigators are asking for documents—"The IRS is being a little slow," said a staffer—and interviewing workers. Pieces of testimony are being released and leaked, which has allowed one congressman, Democrat Elijah Cummings, to claim there's actually no need for an investigation, the story's over, the mystery solved.
When the scandal broke in early May, the Obama administration vowed to get to the bottom of it with an FBI investigation. Many of us were skeptical. There's a sign we were right.
Associated Press
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings.
On June 13, FBI Robert Director Robert Mueller testified before the House Judiciary Committee and was questioned by Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) about former tax-exempt office chief Lois Lerner's claim that the targeting of conservative groups was due to the incompetence of workers in the Cincinnati office.
Jordan: "What can you tell us—I mean you started a month ago, what can you tell us about this, have you found . . . the now-infamous two rogue agents, have you discovered who those people are?"
Mueller: "Needless to say, because it is under investigation, I can't give out any of the details."
Jordan: "Can you tell me . . . how many agents, investigators you've assigned to the case?"
Mueller: "Ah, may be able to do that, but I'd have to get back to you."
Jordan: "Can you tell me who the lead investigator is?"
Mueller: "Off the top of my head, no."
Jordan: "This is the most important issue in front of the country in the last six weeks, you don't know who's heading up the case, who the lead investigator is?"
Mueller: "Ah, at this juncture, no. . . . I have not had a recent briefing on it."
Jordan: "Do you know if you've talked to any of the victims—have you talked to any of the groups who were targeted by their government—have you met with any of the tea-party folks since May 14, 2013?"
Mueller: "I don't know what the status of the interviews are by the team that's on it."
Wow. He'd probably know something about the FBI's investigation of the IRS if he cared about it, if it had some priority or importance within his agency. This week an embarrassed Mr. Mueller was ready for questions from senators. There is an investigation, he said, and "over a dozen" agents have been assigned. Well, better than nothing.
Attorneys for the best-known of the targeted groups confirm that they've heard nothing. From the American Center for Law and Justice: "None of our clients have been contacted or interviewed by the FBI." From lawyer Cleta Mitchell: "I hear from people around the country, and no one has been contacted." All of which is strange. If the FBI were investigating a series of muggings, you'd hope they'd start by interviewing the people who'd been mugged.
Meanwhile a CNN poll shows the number of people who believe the targeting program was directed by the White House is up 10 points the past month, to 47%.
So things have gotten pretty confused, maybe because it's in the interest of a lot of people to confuse it.
Again, what is historic about this scandal, what makes it unique and uniquely dangerous, is that it is different in kind from previous IRS scandals. In the past it was always elite versus elite, power guys using the agency against other power guys. This scandal is different because it's the elite versus the people. It is an entrenched and fearsome power versus regular citizens.
The scandal broke, of course, when Lois Lerner deviously planted a question at a Washington conference. She was trying to get out ahead of a forthcoming inspector general's report that would reveal the targeting. She said that "our line people in Cincinnati who handled the applications" used "wrong" methods. Also "in some cases, cases sat around for a while." The Cincinnati workers "sent some letters out that were far too broad," in some cases even asking for contributors' names. "That's not appropriate."
Since that day, the question has been: Was the targeting of conservative groups in fact the work of incompetent staffers in Cincinnati, or were higher-ups in the Washington office of the IRS involved? Ms. Lerner said it was all Cincinnati.
But then the information cascade began. The Washington Post interviewed Cincinnati IRS workers who said everything came from the top. The Wall Street Journal reported congressional investigators had been told by the workers that they had been directed from Washington. Word came that one applicant group, after receiving lengthy and intrusive requests for additional information, including donor names, received yet another letter asking for even more information—signed by Lois Lerner.
Catherine Engelbrecht of True the Vote, which sought tax-exempt status, recently came into possession of a copy of a 20-month-old letter from the IRS's Taxpayer Advocate Service in Houston, acknowledging that her case had been assigned to an agent in Cincinnati. "He is waiting for a determination from their office in Washington," the advocate said. The agent was "unable to give us a timeframe" on when determination would be made.
The evidence is overwhelming that the Washington office of the IRS was involved. But who in Washington? How high did it go, how many were involved, how exactly did they operate?
Those are the questions that remain to be answered. That's what the investigations are about.
Rep. Cummings, having declared the mystery solved, this week released the entire 205-page transcript of an interview between congressional investigators and a frontline manager in the Cincinnati office. The manager, a self-described conservative Republican, was asked: "Do you have any reason to believe that anyone in the White House was involved in the decision to screen Tea Party cases?" The answer: "I have no reason to believe that."
There, said Mr. Cummings, case closed. But that testimony settles nothing. Nobody imagines the White House picked up a phone to tell IRS workers in Cincinnati to target their enemies. That, as they say, is not how it's done.
The frontline manager also said, in his interview, "I'll say my realm was so low down, and after the initial review of a case, which was, you know, within three days after assignment, I became less and less aware of what happened above me." He said he didn't do any targeting, but "I'm not in a position to discuss anybody else's intention but my own."
What investigators have to do now is follow the trail through the IRS in Washington, including political appointees.
Questions: Do the investigators have a list of everyone who worked in the executive office of the IRS commissioner? Have they contacted those people and asked when they learned of the targeting? What did they do when they learned? Who, if anyone, thwarted any attempts to stop it? And what about those bonuses the IRS is reportedly about to award its employees? How does that figure in?
Congress, including both its battling investigative committees, must get the answers to these questions.
The House speaker should make sure it's a priority. There's no sign the FBI will.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

James Gandolfini, 1961-2013: A Great Actor, A Better Man

June 20, 2013

James Gandolfini was real. He was special. You could feel it.
Friends felt it. Colleagues felt it. People who talked to him for five minutes and never saw him again felt it. People who never met him in person and knew him only through his performance on The Sopranos felt it.
It was real. It was deep. It was true.
James Gandolfini had an authentic connection with viewers. Everyone who watched him perform, in a starring role or a bit part, came away feeling understood. You watched him act and you thought, “Yes. He gets it. He understands.”
He wasn’t one of them. He was one of us.
"I'm an actor,” he once told a reporter. “I do a job and I go home. Why are you interested in me? You don't ask a truck driver about his job."
In the wake of James Gandolfini’s death – of a heart attack, at the appallingly young age of 51 – I keep coming back to that realness, and the source of it, his goodness. I got to know him a bit as a reporter, and I can testify that what you’ve heard is true. He was a good man.
Gandolfini’s goodness was, I believe, at the heart of the powerful connection he forged with viewers. You could sense the goodness in him, no matter how tortured and tormented his characters were. It was there in those sad eyes and that radiant smile.
I covered The Sopranos for the Star-Ledger, the paper Tony Soprano picks up at the end of his driveway. I kept in contact with members of the production staff after I handed the beat to my colleague Alan Sepinwall in 2004. I wasn’t buddies with Gandolfini or anything. Not too many people in the press were, I don’t think, except maybe people Gandolfini knew before he got famous.
I did one of the only one-on-one interviews with him, way back in late 1998, before The Sopranos premiered on HBO.
Two days before our scheduled interview, he called my house. My wife answered the phone.
“Yes?” she said.
Then her jaw dropped. She put her hand over the mouthpiece and whispered, “It’s James Gandolfini!”
She loved Gandolfini. She’d had a crush on him ever since she saw him play Geena Davis’ boyfriend in Angie.
Then she held up a silencing finger because Gandolfini was already talking, nervously. Stammering, practically.
“Okay,” she said to him. “All right. Well, OK. Well. Well ... Well, I don’t know about that. Are you sure?”
Long pause.
“It might not be so bad,” she told him. “You never know. You know what? I think this is a conversation that you really should have with Matt. Hold on a second, he’s right here.”
When I picked up the receiver, Gandolfini said, “Hey, listen, I’ve been thinking about it, and I really think it’s better if I don’t do this interview.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“I just don’t see how I’d have anything interesting to say,” he said. “Why would anybody care? I’m just not that interesting. Who cares what some actor has to say about anything? I’ll just come off sounding like an idiot.”
He was silent for an awkward moment.
Then he said, “I don’t want to get you in trouble with your bosses, though. So I thought I should talk to you about it, and ask you if maybe there was some way we could not do this thing. And just … not do it. Without causing a problem for you. Or for me.”
Somehow I managed to talk him into doing the interview anyhow.
My editor Mark DiIonno asked if he could come along when I visited the set, because he’d gone to Rutgers with Gandolfini and claimed to be personally responsible for the distinctive dent in the actor’s forehead. Apparently a bunch of guys were tear-assing around the dorm shooting dart guns at one another, and Mark surprised Gandolfini by kicking a door open before he could burst through it. The door struck Gandolfini in the forehead and left that famous crease.
“I can’t wait to see the look on his face,” Mark said.
When we arrived on the set, Gandolfini saw Mark. His face lit up with one of the warmest smiles I’ve ever seen on anybody. He hugged Mark and clapped him on the back so hard you’d think he was trying to dislodge food lodged in Mark’s gullet.
This is how James Gandolfini often greeted people: as if he was overjoyed to see them, and wanted to revel in their presence just in case he never saw them again.
We spent half a day together on the set of one of the Sopranos episodes. He was great. I wish I’d saved the cassette tape. He talked about coming up in Hollywood and in the New York theater scene. He talked about acting and bartending. I vividly remember him talking about how much he loved Mickey Rourke.
He said, “In the eighties, Mickey Rourke was the shit. If you were a young guy who loved movies and wanted to be an actor and was seeing a lot of movies in the eighties, there was nobody better than Mickey Rourke. DeNiro, Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, they were all great, don’t get me wrong. But Mickey Rourke was the man. I wanted to be Mickey Rourke.”
I said, “You wanted to be like Mickey Rourke?’
He laughed and said, “No! I mean actually wanted to be Mickey Rourke. I wanted to be him. Like, steal his soul, like in Angel Heart, and actually be Mickey Rourke!”
In the summer of 1999, the Television Critics Association gave Gandolfini an award for his work on the show. Nobody warned him that the cocktail reception after the awards show was a press event and that he’d be swarmed by reporters with notepads and tape recorders. He thought it was an off-the-books type of deal, just one professional group appreciating another. I was already at the bar when he sidled up next to me, ordered a beer and said, “One of these days, you’ll have to explain to me how this thing works,” and waved his hand, indicating the media piling onto the hotel balcony where the bar was located. When the tape recorders and notepads came out, his eyes filled with panic.
When the cameras came out and the flashbulbs started going off, he stayed a couple more minutes, then fled. A friend later told me that the moment reminded him of the scene at the end of King Kong, right before the ape breaks his chains and goes berserk.
In December 1999, on the eve of season two, he sent Christmas cards to critics who’d written nice things about the show. As Alan noted in his appreciation, some of these cards had his home address on them.
There was no blowout premiere party for season one of The Sopranos because nobody had any idea how big it would become. Season two was a different story. HBO rented out Radio City Music Hall. The cast and crew and executives arrived in limousines, as is customary. James Gandolfini arrived in a yellow cab.
At the after-party, I asked him why.
“My family’s here,” he said. “My friends are here. Guys I grew up with are here. Some of them came by train or by the subway to get here, or they drove three hours in a van or whatever. What are they gonna think if they see me getting out of a limo?”
“They’ll think you’re the star of a hit TV show,” I said. “Which you are.”
“They’re gonna think I’ve gone Hollywood.”
“You know this is the last year you’ll be able to do that, right?” Michael Imperioli told Gandolfini. And he was correct. He tried to take a cab to the season one premiere and was talked out of it. Gandolfini showed up at the season three premiere party in a limo. On the red carpet, he looked as though he’d rather be anywhere else, but he showed up in a limo.
He got better about seeming comfortable talking to the press and in public forums. In time he was comfortable enough to do an hour-long conversation with James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio.
But I think it’s fair to say that none of this is proof that he’d “gone Hollywood.” More likely he was just giving a different sort of performance, one as convincing as all of his others.
Every time I spoke to him between 1998 and 2006 – the last time I had any contact with the man – he seemed like basically the same guy I’d met that first time, but with more money. I took my brother Richard, a big Sopranos fan, to the season six DVD release party. When he saw me, he acted as if he’d never been happier to see anyone. He grabbed me in a headlock and gave me noogies like Bill Murray torturing Gilda Radner on the old Saturday Night Live and crowed, “Hoah! What happened to all your hair?”
“What happened to all your hair?” I shot back lamely, pulling free of his grip.
“Look at this fuckin’ guy, with the banter,” he said to the room at large.
“When’s the last time you saw him?” Richard asked me afterward.
“I don’t know. Maybe three years?”
You wouldn’t have known it.
Look at this picture of Gandolfini at Mardi Gras in 2007. Look at the smile on the face of this mountain of a man, this black-hatted gangster pope.
You could tell he really got a kick out of people: experiencing their personalities, their idiosyncrasies; hearing their stories.
I think that’s why, when he’d won some awards and made a ton of money and had enough clout to get his own projects made, the first thing he threw his weight behind was an oral history documentary about recently returned veterans. He was on camera interviewing. He listened more than he talked. He had no political agenda. He just wanted to give the soldiers a platform to talk about what it was like to go through whatever they’d been through.
It wasn’t about him. Even if he was the star of a TV show or a movie, it wasn’t about him.
It was about them.
It was about you.
It was about us.
When my wife died suddenly of a heart attack in 2006, he sent me a condolence note. It read, “I am sorry for your loss. I remember talking to your wife on the phone that one time. She seemed like a nice lady.”
It was signed, “Jim.”
While I sat at my desk writing this piece, my friend Shade Rupe, who created a James Gandolfini fan site, emailed me two sentences. “I created and He knew.”
Attached to the email was a photo of Shade with Gandolfini. The actor has a huge smile, almost as huge as Shade’s. They look like a couple of war buddies reunited after twenty years.
Anybody who had even the slightest contact with Gandolfini will testify to what a great guy he was, how full of life he was, how extraordinary he made other people feel. Yes, absolutely, he had problems – with drink, with drugs, with women, probably with lots of other things, for all we know – but so does everybody, to one degree or another. But whether he was feeling well or poorly, or living smartly or stupidly, there was always something about the guy that you wanted to embrace.
You could feel it shining through the screen, that warmth and vulnerability, that broken yet still-hopeful humanness.
That’s what made Tony Soprano, a bully and killer and cheater and disgusting hypocrite, so likable. The decent part of Tony, the part that stood in for the tragically wasted human potential Dr. Melfi kept trying to tease out and embrace, came from Gandolfini. His humanity shone through Tony’s rotten façade. When people said they sensed good in Tony, it was James Gandolfini they sensed.
"It's like showing emotion has become a bad thing,” he told me. “Like there's something wrong with you if you're really in love or really angry and you show it. Like if you feel those powerful emotions and you express them, instead of keeping them inside or expressing yourself politely, then you must be someone who needs therapy, or Prozac. That's the world we're in right now."
He went on, “The character is a good fit. Obviously, I'm not a mobster, and there's other aspects of the guy I'm not familiar with, like how comfortable he is with violence. But in most of the ways that count, I have to say, yeah — the guy is me."
He was Tony Soprano. He was James Gandolfini. He was us.
We lost a friend today.